People in a grocery store aisle

7 Things No One Tells You When Moving Back to America

We just recently PCSed back to America from being stationed overseas in Okinawa, Japan. I fondly remember all the emotions from three years ago when we were making the “big move across the Pacific,” as we called it. I remember being nervous, scared, stressed and excited. Of course these are all normal reactions to moving to a foreign country that you have never visited and know little about. However, no one told me that it would be just as nervous, scary, stressful and exciting to move back to the states. Here are seven things that surprised me about moving back:

  1. American stores can be overwhelming. The first time we walked into a big box store upon returning I took a picture because I had forgotten how vast American stores can be. And the malls, y’all, so many stores under one roof. Which leads to….
  2. Selection overload, my goodness. Did you know there are whole entire refrigerated sections devoted to yogurt? Just yogurt. And that you can buy virtually any type of fruit or vegetable, no matter the season, at the grocery store? We discovered flavor combinations and brands of cookies, cereal, yogurt, chips and drinks that we had never heard of because they haven’t made their way over to Japan yet. Our first shopping trip was about two and a half hours long, and we left with hardly anything because there was just too much to choose from that I needed to revise my game plan. It is still actually tough having so many things to choose from and I find myself missing the days of choosing between item A or item B (and sometimes just item A because B is out of stock).
  3. The technology will amaze you. I am not sure about other overseas duty stations, but Okinawa ironically isn’t up to date with the cutting edge technology. When we walked into the electronics store to get a new TV we were hit with so many selections of 4K/Ultra HD, 3-D, surround sound, etc. We had to get a lesson in what everything was. Also with cell phones, we forgot what “normal” was. (Note: I hear that the cell phone systems in Okinawa changed right when we left so these statements may no longer be accurate, but they sure were for us while we lived there.)
  4. It is so strange to head out in town and not have to check how much foreign currency I have on me. I had a “yen coin” holder that was always in my purse. I will admit it was a sad day when I retired my special blue yen holder, but there is freedom in only depending on one type of currency and knowing that your debit card will work everywhere.
  5. You don’t need to plan for holidays, birthdays and other festivities months in advance. No more checking to see if a company ships to APO/FPO addresses or if they use USPS Priority verses the other delivery services. I still find myself online shopping and thinking, “Oh bummer, their stuff comes by the ‘slow boat.’” Then I have the “duh” moment of “Oh yeah, everything arrives fast here.”
  6. You can leave hoarders anonymous behind. Overseas I had what I called “two syndrome.” Virtually everything I bought I put two in the cart. Closer to Thanksgiving I found myself with copious amounts of pumpkin pie filling, crescent rolls and pie crust. I must remind myself when shopping now that there is absolutely no reason to hoard items. I don’t need to have a supply of black beans to feed an army. I can come back any day of the week and the store will have what I need.
  7. American driving is so fast. With typical speed limits starting at 65 plus miles per hour and relearning to drive on the right-hand side of the road, I am pretty sure I still have a white-knuckle death grip on the steering wheel. We have been home for a few months and I still find myself flipping my windshield wipers on instead of my turn signal or getting into the passenger side of the car thinking that it is the driver’s side. My husband has to remind me that the speed limit is 65 miles per hour and most people would prefer I go at least 55 verses my new default speed of 45. Why is everyone in such a hurry anyhow?

All in all, I will say that moving back to America after living overseas was surprisingly difficult. Before we PCSed back it never occurred to me that we might encounter some of the challenges and surprises we did. So if you are living overseas and have a PCS back to America on the horizon, don’t forget to mentally prepare. Adjusting isn’t necessarily without hiccups just because this is what you grew up. In the end, this is home and we are glad to be back. Now excuse me as I go aimlessly walk the aisles at my favorite store, in person and not online, just because I can.

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  • Steve Hoover says:

    Nice article. Definitely hit it right on the head. After being in Korea for the last five years, coming back to the U.S. has been an adjustment (even though we did come back at differnt times during the tour). However, now that I’ve been back for about 90 days, I’m ready to go back overseas.

  • Amanda says:

    The flipping the wipers one when meaning to turn on a blinker won’t change for the the foreseeable future. We were on the main land from 00 to 03 and I STILL have to think a second before I turn one or the other one. It took a few months for us to stop getting in on the wrong side of the car…. once about 12 hours after being home I was pulled over for driving on the wrong side of the road… thankfully it was 2 am and I was the only one on the road. I had to pull out my passport and show the cop I had been gone for as long as I was and had just gotten back.
    I do miss Japan. It was my all time favorite places and I would do unspeakable and innumerable things to go back but sadly it’s just not in the cards.

  • Keith Houin says:

    Hmmm. I remember that move to states from Okinawa, but found U.S. tech was far behind. Very far behind. And the service in the U.S. was nothing like I got in Oki or any part of Japan.
    My recent trip back to the states from Belgium and England, I could not find any of my favorite flavored chips (crisps) or crackers. There was no roast beef with mustard, chicken with onions and chives, etc, etc, etc and another dozen etcs.
    Never had to hoard, just learned how to shop the economy and get what I need from the right store or road-side market. Pumpkin pie filling – fresh pumpkin to make 10 pies for the same price as five cans.
    Okinawa? Sweet potato pie heaven. Fresh picked pineapple for all my dishes that need it.
    Things were definitely different though.
    I ran into a lot of people in such a rush that they jumped lines and pushed people out of the way. And they were loud. Very loud.
    As for Okinawa – never met a rude teller at any store in four years. In the U.S. – first four days – four rude tellers. I was hating my trip home until I met Davon. 17, paying for college, wanted to open his own grocery one day where everybody was treated like a guest and not a customer.
    I guess we all have our own experience. I love the U.S., but let’s be honest, it isn’t perfect or better than the rest of the world.

  • Renee Howard says:

    Thank you for this! I realize I have to mentally prepare for our PCS Saturday. 😉

  • Jia says:

    Really disappointed reading the article as it seems like an opinionated comparison with life in Okinawa to whereever in the states the author is. Not all bases or the areas they are located are the same. For example, from Ft. Sill to Ft. Hood may not have that much of a culture shock, but try going to Ft. Sill from Ft. Steward. “Home Sweet Home” would be the last thing to cross one’s mind. However, the other way round may be paradise for some. Just because the base cities have a Walmart and everyone speaks English does not make them equal, nor does it make it feel like home.
    It would have been practical advise for those moving back to the states if the author had made a more realistic or factual comparison such as medical insurance–the option to change to standard from the overseas premium–or no more ration control at the commissary or PX except for hard liquor, etc.
    Personally when we returned from Korea a couple years ago, we had the opposite experience. The cable internet was triple the price for the same speed, the mobile phone plans are ridiculously expensive too, and we had a big paycheck reduction without COLA and the extras. Although the base in Korea was in a rural area, public transportation was available to take us anywhere, and we would frequently adventure offpost. Back here, unless you have a car or 30 – 60 minutes to spare waiting for a bus which you have to walk miles to get to anyway, or walk for hours to get to anywhere, it would be better and much safer to stay at home all day. Although it does have a mall and all the fastfood restaurants, it will always be a double culture shock. Once going overseas to a foreign country, and once more returning to whereever the army sends you to call home again.

  • Jerry says:

    The lady who wrote it was living the island life and did not know the local language so her experiences were severely limited. She must never have been to akihabara

  • M Meier says:

    Americans don’t drive fast (except in certain areas). Puerto Ricans drive like maniacs and have no regard for traffic laws or courtesy. Otherwise, Puerto Rico is not a place I would ever recommend to anyone unless they speak Spanish because PRicans DO NOT like to speak English. We have had a horrible year and we are not the only ones who can’t stand this place. Even PRicans who have lived outside the country don’t like being here. Can’t wait to get back to the States (as screwed up as they might currently be) on the 13th!!!!!

  • Dana says:

    Melissa, love this list!! Do you need anything from the ¥100 store before we pack out next month??

  • Amber says:

    I know all of this to well. I felt very out of my comfort upon moving back to the states from 4 years at Yokota AFB in Tokyo. For months after being back it was hard to break the bowing habit. I did the same thing with the turn signal, and even pulled out into the wrong lanes of traffic a couple of times. I’ve been back stateside for two years now and I’m still finding random yen coins in the bottoms or pockets of my handbags. Sometimes I mistake a 100 yen coin for a quarter, that always earns me strange looks from cashiers as they give it back to me and ask for US currency.

  • Denise says:

    Ha ha, I completely agree and in fact spoke about 5 of these the other day to a gal that was just going for a visit to America!! 🙂 Who knew there was that much yogurt right? I was completely paralyzed in the yogurt and coffee creamer section when we visited CA after being in Oki for a year!! 🙂

    Miss you sister!

  • Mom of 3 Girls says:

    LOVE it!!! and it ALL is SOOOOO true, every single one of them!!! I really mean it…EVERY SINGLE ONE!!! hahaha. I couldnt wait to get back to the American way and when I got home I said, oh my I want to go back to Europe (where we were stationed). I had my mom laugh at me because I didnt know how to text and she did, which btw, she tried over and over again, I just couldnt figure it out, until 1 day I did it (don’t know how) but did it, she replied, I couldnt figure out how to reply back, so she called me in a panic that something was wrong. LOL. That was so stinking funny. She would also tease me because she said I was the slowest driver in the state of Nebraska and that the old folks drove faster than me. I was mortified, I thought I was a “safe” driver. LOL Oh and the selections…Our luggage was lost the night we came back from our PCS (it was midnight:30) and we were freaking out that we had NO PJ’s, NO clean undies, NO toothbrush or toothpaste, NOTHING!!! My mom (she’s lucky I love her) she says, so what it’s lost we can run to Wal-Mart and pick that stuff up. I was like WALMART….Oh my gosh YES….I had forgotten things do stay open past 6 or 8 pm. LOL. I was like, YEAH lets hit the Wal-Mart, even the hubby was more than happy to hit the Walmart at 1am. My 3 girls were super excited too that they got to choose a “real cool” toothbrush and pick out a “new” toothpaste. LOL It’s the little things….right…. Again, thank you for this post as it reminds me every day how we take for granted what America has to offer. I do have to say we are back in Europe again and I once again don’t miss the American way of living (well ok, there are a few things I miss…walmart). LOL

  • had all the same feelings when we moved back from Sasebo, Japan! We had a baby their when we went to store in states baby aisle blew my mind!!!

  • anita says:

    I hear you. My family spent 8yrs overseas in Japan, and just moved back stateside 1 1/2yrs ago. i can honestly say that i got lost in the grocery store the first time i went because i didn’t know where things were and i was very overwhelmed by the selections. what makes it worse was that the people who were working there kept asking me if i needed help…yep..i did.
    after a year and a half being back, i still get the blinker and wipers mixed up, will have a flashback and get in on the “wrong” side of the car, remember that i can pay using my debt card, and drive at a speed of 45miles an hour. 🙂
    oh here’s another thing you forgot…Showing your ID just to get into the store, or remembering that you can actually go to the grocery store on a MONDAY. i did that for a month. would keep thinking that the store was only open tuesday thru sunday and was repeatedly told by neighbors that it was OK to go to the store on Monday since it was actually open, and no i didn’t need to show my ID card to get in. you also forgot that if you find it in your size BUY IT because chances are you’ll never see it again.

    what i like about being back stateside is that i have my own home that i can paint using any color i want and i don’t have to return it to the original color upon leaving. i can leave my grass grow without the “lawn police” ticketing me. I can also have a garden that i don’t have to foster to friends at the end of the year because i may or may not be moving. i like wondering around stores because i can, but i still feel overwhelmed.

    i do miss the simplicity of Japan though, and wish i could go back.

  • i would also mention that fast food makes you have severe diarrhea. We at Jack in the box and we all got sick. Two years later and still have not been back. The list is right on though, we were there for six years. It was more of a culture shock coming back. We do have orders back to Iwakuni!!!

  • Liz says:

    I studied abroad in Dalian, China for 5 months. Even though it was a short amount of time compared to people who are stationed overseas for years, I did still have to adjust to coming back home. It was really weird to be able to drink water from the tap again and not have to worry about buying meats and dairy because everything is refrigerated here. I don’t know about you, but fast food was not really a thing in Dalian, and I almost keeled over when I had my first hamburger back in the states. I think the culture shock was worse coming back because it wasn’t exciting, it was just frustrating. I don’t want the store, or driving, or ordering food to be an adventure in the states!

  • Andrea says:

    This is all very accurate, we’ve been overseas for 7yrs now and when I think about going back to the states whenever we do I think about how big the roads are, especially in neighborhoods and I get really anxious; I prefer the small roads.